Integrating space, design and dialogue

A conversation with Superpool
by Teresita Scalco, January 2012

Based in Istanbul’s Tophane district, Superpool (the duo Selva Gurdogan and Gregers Tang Thomsen) is one of the most interesting architecture and design firm in the city also dealing with issues of social innovation for the cultural agenda. Here an interview with them.

TS. Can you briefly told us about your backgrounds and how your experience
at OMA, with Rem Koolhaas, has influenced your current practice and
intellectual aims?
Superpool. Gregers is a graduate of Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark and Selva has finished her studies in Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles.  We have worked between 2002 – 2006 at OMA offices in Rotterdam and New York and have started Superpool in 2006 in Istanbul.
Both in our formal education and at OMA, there was a very strong studio culture. We know architecture is not something you can do by yourself in an isolated room, it is better and more rewarding to work within a group. In the office everyone is expected to contribute with his or her intelligence and imagination. And out of the many ideas brought to the table, we create a narrative for the project.

TS. Why you have decided to base your firm in Istanbul? Which are the strongest creative energies in the city and which are the challenges that you are facing?
Superpool. When we decided to move out of the US, we where considering, either to go to Denmark from where Gregers comes or move to Istanbul. We thought Istanbul would be a more interesting start since the architectural agenda is less clear and more buildings are being built, ultimately we also felt as well it could be more useful.
Entrepreneurship is a strong force in Turkey and Istanbul. This also includes the design community.
It is fairly easy to set up shop and there is room fro a wide range of creative approaches due the size and varied clientele of the city. The challenges we are facing are mainly related to mix of informal business behaviuor / lack of professionalism, however this aspect also sometimes becomes the strength.

TS. Could you talk about the Open Library, Open City Istanbul and SALT projects
and its design concepts behind?
Superpool. Open Library was an invitation from the Platform Garanti, now SALT, to design a “library exhibition.”  Installation of a public reading room in their art gallery space was a generous addition to the urban life of Istanbul’s most crowded pedestrian street.  The gallery space was designed like an auditorium, with seats (on one side) facing a ‘stage’ with the books arranged as a backdrop.
The proposal with a single element tried to create multiple options for public interaction; lectures, readings, screenings, casual conversations could all be accommodated.
Open City was our second exhibition project, there were two parts to the exhibition; first part was a series of architectural and urban projects on the issue of refuge see from four different perspectives.  Because there were many contributors to the exhibition, the format and media varied from project to project.  We wanted to develop a wall system that adjusted to these variations. This gave the enclosures a sense of randomness from the back, however, once inside, it walls created a familiar and intentional exhibition space.
The second part was an event and a reading space that was laid out as a large divan, a continuous seating unit along the periphery of the room, keeping the center empty except a giant mobile structure, for public activity.


TS. With Project and Project you have developed several exhibition design
and books projects at SALT, could you tell us how did you share and benefit by
working together?
Superpool. With Project Projects, we have collaborated on the Mapping Istanbul book and later the Becoming Istanbul exhibition.  Especially during the exhibition design, we had a very seamless and fluid design process. Though we each have our core expertise as architects and graphic designers, we worked on all parts of the project together, resulting in a well-integrated spatial and graphic exhibition.
The benefit of working with other experts is that you are not as protective of your own work but rather co-edit.  And the result inevitably is much stronger.

TS. About Becoming Istanbul, I would like to know how you have re-shape or
adjust the content of it from the Architecture Museum in Frankfurt/Main to
Superpool. The Becoming Istanbul database itself on display in Frankfurt and later in Istanbul were essentially the same. What the curators were missing in the Frankfurt show and what we tried to achieve in Istanbul were concentrated and to some degree a more private browsing stations.
We installed various screen sizes in the space.  Scaling the database in this manner meant that the visitors could lose themselves in material in the way they felt most comfortable.

TS. The previous projects strongely orchestrated an ‘open space’ for
discussion and aiming to produce critical thinking, as it was your office in
Tophane, where you have hosted the HUB Lab Istanbul last May. How was
that experience?
Superpool. Part of the basis of the office is our belief in sharing or pooling of resources. Hosting the HUB event in that sense is just one of many gatherings we hold.  A lot of travelling architect groups often end up stopping by our office as well, be it the city architect and his staff from Copenhagen or a group of students from Columbia University in New York.  Some we ask to give us a lecture in return in a series we named “Karakoy Talks”.

TS. Do you perceive the developing of design as a cultural actor in Istanbul as
much as the contemporary architecture and art initiatives? There is some
connections among these fields? If so, could you give some examples?
Superpool. Contemporary design or architecture can become a cultural actor; currently however, it has mainly commercial intelligence.  We have great interior design, great graphics and advertising agencies.  Product design is also coming along.  However, the critical perspective is not always there.  For contemporary art, critique has been a good motivation.  There are many artists who touch public unconscious in thoughtful and sometimes in humorous ways.  Of course, art has support structures that allow artists to explore subjects who are interested in.  Architects rely heavily on commercial work.  There are not many platforms that commission architects to think further, be experimental, and take risks.  As Superpool, we keep inventing clients and projects for working on things we are interested in.

TS. From your point of view how is perceived architecture and design (and does it penetrate) into citizens’ live? And more precisely, what are the future challenges that cultural institutions (also museums) have to face in the light of the cultural policy and social issues in Istanbul?
Superpool. Both architecture and design are currently highlighted as added value in commercial contexts, so in some ways, it is a part of everyday media. Critical conversations about design and architecture however are lacking.  There are not enough platforms, especially for communication between public and public administration.  It will be important for the city’s future to develop public projects that involve multiple actors and communities.  There are not any precedents at the moment.  Urban renovation or public projects are designed behind closed doors.  It will be important for the future to expand the discussion from the public administration to the public.

BIO | Selva Gürdoğan, Architect (born 1979, Turkey. 2003 graduate from Sci-Arc, USA) and Gregers Tang Thomsen, Architect (born 1974, Denmark. 2003 graduate from Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark) founded Superpool in Istanbul in 2006. They met at Rem Koolhaas’ studio Office for Metropolitan Architecture – OMA – in 2003, where they worked until establishing Superpool. Currently Superpool is engaged in TailorCrete, a European Commission funded research for incorporating robotics into concrete construction technology, along with the design of single-family houses in Zekeriyakoy, Istanbul.  Superpool has also recently completed Mapping Istanbul; a book commissioned by Garanti Gallery with nearly a hundred maps and information graphics creating a valuable resource for architects, planners, and policy-makers invested in the city’s future.


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